Game Name: Tales of Zestiria
Release Date: 22/01/2015
Playtime: 15ish hours
This first impression review won’t contain spoilers until the final part, where I discuss the whole debacle thing. I will mark everything that could be considered a spoiler (in my opinion). Your definition of a spoiler may differ. I won’t spoil any story elements apart from the premise, but will talk about gameplay and characters (though not character arcs).
Also, I didn’t want to proofread, so just take the first draft and shut up.
So, Tales of Zestiria, the 20th anniversary Tales game, was released last week to less than stellar user-reviews which have been widely discussed on Twitter, Tumblr and the like. I got the game on Monday and had enough time to put in around 15 hours. So I thought I’d write an impression piece to let you know how I like the game. This, of course, is not a final review, as I’m maybe around the 30-40%ish part of the game. I just got Rose, who I think might be the final party member, hit level 23 and it feels like the story is now starting to develop.
The story is alright. It’s a Tales game, which were never known for their stellar storytelling. Zestiria is very much “inspired” by the King Arthur tales. There’s areas called Ladylake, Pendragon… and I’m just waiting for Camelot at the rate this is going. But they put a spin on it. Up until now the story has never bored me or made me rage at the characters in the way Tales of Graces f did. So that’s a plus in my book. I really can’t talk much about the story since I don’t want to spoil anything, but I guess if you’ve liked prior Tales stories, you will enjoy this one. If you didn’t care for Tales stories before, you won’t care for this one either. In the context of the series though, I think it does a better job than some.
God yes. This is where Tales games shine and Zestiria especially. I’ve had my issues with some Tales entries just because of annoying characters before (Tales of Graces, I am SO looking at you) but here I don’t dislike anyone. My favourite is very clearly Mikleo – and paired with his BFF Sorey it makes him even better – but I’ve come to like every character.
Alisha stands out as the most boring of the bunch – she’s still likeable, don’t get me wrong, but her character is just nothing to write home about when compared to the other characters in the party. She’s the generic “Royalty wanting to save her country/world” which is a character archetype we’ve had one too many times. She’s essentially a second Milla from Tales of Xillia.
Even characters I thought I’d find annoying after a while found a way into my heart. I thought I wouldn’t like Edna, since she just bullies everyone all the time, but damn, her banter with Mikleo is some of the best comedy in this game.
I will miss these characters when I am done with the game, which is a very big compliment to the writers I guess.
MIKLEO IS THE CUTEST. Rose is pretty cute, too. Hate all you want.
This is the meat of Tales games and the formula hasn’t been changed up much. You still fight enemies in real-time battle arenas that are now seamless transitioned, so you’re essentially fighting at the spot you touched the enemy at.
This is where the biggest problem with the battle system comes in: the camera. Since you can fight at ANY spot and the camera is fixed behind the characters instead of on top, fighting near a wall or a pillar can become really cumbersome, as it can result in wonderful camera angles like this one. Granted, this one in particular is a very rare case, but the camera is quite awful most of the time, having your characters disappear, making comboing very hard to do as you can’t see what your character is doing while you mash buttons. This is especially grating on high difficulties, where you may want to use the step system or keep up a stunlock.
Apart from the camera though, the battle system is completely to my tastes. Just like in the original Tales of Hearts, you don’t have TP, instead they essentially reuse the EG gauge and call it “SC”. It refills when you don’t do anything or guard and is used to power both your A and B Artes, both of them returning from Tales of Graces. Your A Artes are used my mashing the O button (or well, X button if you have a European or American PS3) and they branch out depending on the direction you press on the analog stick. B Artes can be activated with the X (or O in EU/US) button. They work like Artes in all other Tales games. This time though, you can set 5 of them, instead of just 4. You can also have an AI button which leaves it up to the AI to pick which Arte to spam.
So essentially, they just took Tales of Graces f’s system and mixed it with Hearts.
Outside of battle there’s quite a bit to do. You can find stone monuments (which work as tutorials), Normins (kind of like the cats in Xillia 2) and Discoveries (returning from Graces). Save points start out in a “closed” state and “open” when you touch them, enabling you to spend Gald to warp to them from anywhere (whenever the game allows you to, that is). Following some story events, you can even spend GRADE (earned through battles) at save points to get items and “upgrade” the area that savepoint is in or you can set Normin to find better equip, which will strengthen enemies in the area.
Talking about equip, we get to a part about the game I don’t appreciate much, which is the skill system. Every equipment comes with skills on it, which can range from “Attack +5″ or “SC regeneration when being hit +10%” to “All Stats +20″. All skills have a category and an element. Matching these on a grid can get you bonus skills like the aforementioned “All Stats +20″ one. Skills can also be transferred between Equip of the same kind.
This is what I don’t like about it. If I don’t want to sacrifice my “All Stats+20″ and “BG+1″ bonus I have on Sorey right now, I can’t just equip new stuff I find on him because it might break my bonus. So a new sword might not be better than the one I started the game with. If you like min-maxing in menus, you might enjoy this system and I’m pretty sure it will turn out to be super exploitable, but I preferred the “buy stuff, equip it, all good” approach in Xillia 1 and 2.
This section will contain minor spoilers considering Alisha and Rose. Don’t read if you have no idea what the whole debate is about. If you want to read the rest of my impressions, jump down to the next red part.
Alright. Let’s get to the part I wanted to write about. I didn’t want to tweet about it since some people might consider this a spoiler, so here we go. I’ll just take all Tumblr criticism one by one.
The camera sucks!
That one is true.
Alisha is not the main heroine, the party hates her and bullies her out of the party because of Rose.
She’s not the main heroine, that’s true. She left my party around the 10 hour mark and I haven’t seen her since. But I don’t get where the whole “The party bullies Alisha all the time” thing came from because she’s loved by EVERYONE. She just left the party because she had a different goal than Sorey. She’s the princess, so of course she’d want to focus on her country rather than travel the world. Also, good riddance because people who bash on Rose because they loved Alisha pretty much just fell in love with Alisha’s design. Rose is the way more interesting character. Bullying Fujishima off Twitter… are you kidding me?
Everyone likes Rose for no reason.
I will admit that the writing when Rose joined was quite weird. They just meet her, find out that “Oh, she has a high affinity for Tenzoku because Dezel used her as his vessel for who knows how long” and decide to ask her along so that Sorey isn’t the only human in the party. Rose really has no reason to travel with them other than “Sorey is kind of interesting” which bugs me. Then again, she IS the easy-going character, so it fits. I would have liked a more serious backstory though. Maybe involving the whole assassin’s guild thing.
This game is the worst Tales entry since Tempest!
What are you even talking about?!
That DLC is a scam!
It is. I’m guessing they found out that Alisha got super popular before release and planned that DLC instead of getting in more screentime for her. When they got the backlash for the game, they probably decided to have it out earlier AND make it free. Still doesn’t make it a good move.
You can read again.
Buy this game if you liked prior Tales games. They have ALL been flawed. You won’t like this game if you didn’t enjoy Graces, Xillia or Hearts, because Zestiria is essentially an amalgam of those. If you did, though: There’s no reason to skip this game over some stupid character debates.
It’s all good fun.